A patient and technician operate whole-body plethysmography, which offers pulmonary function testing at the Camden hospital of the Southeast Georgia Health System in St. Marys.

The Southeast Georgia Health System’s Camden hospital recently unveiled a new pulmonary function test, previously only available in Brunswick.

Known as whole-body plethysmography, the noninvasive, painless test measures how well a patient’s lungs are working. It can detect if they were exposed to or damaged by toxic substances. The machine can also monitor lung function in patients with asthma, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder (COPD), lung cancer or COVID-19 complications.

Dr. Herman Levy, a board-certified pulmonologist with the Southeast Georgia Physician Associates-Pulmonary Medicine in St. Marys, says the technology will go a long way in aiding patients with lung conditions.

“This test identifies decreases in pulmonary function a patient might not be aware of, as well as declining lung function that requires medication or lifestyle changes,” Levy said.

To perform the test, a patient sits or stands inside a clear, airtight chamber roughly the size of a telephone booth. The patient then inhales or exhales into a breathing tube. As they breath, the plethysmograph measures air pressure changes inside the chamber and changes in mouth pressure or flow rate under certain breathing conditions. A disposable filtered mouthpiece is used for each test. All surfaces are also cleaned with hospital-grade germicidal wipes.

“It’s a very accurate way to measure lung function,” Levy said. “That’s an advantage for pulmonologists and for patients. Whole-body plethysmography is a less stressful experience compared to less advanced testing technologies.”

Diana Cameron, manager of Radiology and Cardiopulmonary Services, agrees.

“The detectors are more sensitive to patient effort. It’s less likely they will have to repeat the test or work as hard to achieve consistent results, so they will not feel as tired after testing,” she said.

The clear chamber is another advantage. Its walls are composed of transparent glass, allowing patients to see the room around them as well as the technician.

Before the Camden Campus acquired whole-body plethysmography, pediatric, claustrophobic or disabled patients had to travel to Brunswick or Jacksonville to access this technology. If a patient cannot get inside the chamber for any reason, testing is done outside the unit — though results may be somewhat limited.

For doctors like Levy, having another tool in the arsenal is always beneficial. And that’s more true now than ever before.

“We believe that COVID-19 may leave some people with conditions that compromise the integrity of their lungs. Additionally, a lot of people are told there’s nothing they can do about COPD, which may lead them to feel depressed,” he said.

“Serial pulmonary function studies are an excellent way to monitor pulmonary disease processes and prevent or slow disease progression. It’s another way to help people achieve a better quality of life.”

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